EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — In their first season with the New York Giants, general manager Joe Schoen and coach Brian Daboll cleaned up a mess that had littered the Meadowlands for five years.
Schoen transformed a franchise in a salary-cap crisis into one that will have nearly $54 million to retain quarterback Daniel Jones and Saquon Barkley — if he chooses — and add players who can fill the team's many needs heading into next season.
All Daboll did was turn around a team that had five straight losing seasons and lead it to a 9-7-1 record and a playoff run. The Giants won a wild-card game at Minnesota before getting blown out 38-7 by top-seeded Philadelphia in the divisional round.
Repeating that success is the next step. New York was 1-5-1 in the NFC East, losing three times to the Eagles. The Giants' 6-2 start featured five wins by six points or fewer.
“There’s a talent gap there that we need to close,” Schoen said Monday while sitting next to Daboll. He was just as quick to note that the Giants had a good team despite not having the most talent in the league.
It's no guarantee Daboll can build on this season's success. Seven teams that made the playoffs in the 2021 season failed to get back this season. The Rams went from winning the Super Bowl to a losing record.
“Every team is different,” Daboll said. “Just because you won one year doesn’t guarantee you anything the next year relative to what players you have, what players you don’t have.”
The biggest offseason questions for the Giants will revolve around Jones, Barkley and defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence. Jones and Barkley are free agents and Lawrence will be playing on the fifth-year option of his rookie contract.
They were among the most important players on the team.
After the Giants declined to pick up his fifth-year option, Jones had a career year, throwing for 3,205 yards, 15 touchdowns and five interceptions. He also ran for 708 yards, a team record for a QB, and seven TDs.
Barkley finally recovered from an ACL injury in 2020 and rushed for 1,312 and 10 touchdowns, while catching 57 passes. Lawrence was a force in the middle of the defense with a team-high 7 1/2 sacks.
Schoen danced around questions about re-signing them several times before saying: “We’re happy Daniel is going to be here.” He quickly clarified that's continent on the sides reaching an agreement.
Barkley and his representatives talked with Schoen and the Giants about a new contract during the bye week in early November, but the GM said the two sides were never close.
When he was with the Bills as an assistant general manager, Schoen worked for an organization that didn't overpay running backs. That would indicate Barkley may not have the same negotiating power as Jones' representatives.
“We'd like all our guys back but there is a business side to it,” Schoen said.
The Giants have already held their postseason meetings with players and they plan to have a staff meeting on Thursday. Offseason training will start on April 17 and that's when Daboll will start building team chemistry.
Schoen said no players were told the team didn't want them back.
“Every team that I’ve been part of has been different,” Daboll said. “Not one team is the same. So that’s the beauty about this league, is every year is a new year for everybody.”
The Giants have glaring needs, starting at wide receiver. They don't have a No. 1 go-to guy. The late-season burden was carried by Darius Slayton, waiver-wire acquisition Isaiah Hodgins and punt returner Richie James.
Kenny Golladay, who had one TD catch in two unproductive seasons after signing a four-year, $72 million contract in 2021, could be cut. He has a $21.4 million cap hit in 2023, and releasing him would save $6.7 million.
New York also could use inside linebackers and another interior defensive lineman.
Offensive coordinator Mike Kafka and defensive coordinator Wink Martindale both have interviews for head coaching positions.
Both talked to the Colts about the job in Indy and Kafka also interviewed with Houston and Carolina.
Daboll has already started working on his options should any of his staff leave. The coach who might be in the most jeopardy is special teams coordinator Thomas McGaughey, whose unit struggled. The players McGaughey counted on were forced to start because of injuries and he was filling holes every week.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
Besides Barkley and Jones, the Giants' list of free agents is long: WR Sterling Shepard, OL Nick Gates, C Jon Feliciano, DL Justin Ellis, RB Matt Breida, LS Casey Kreiter, LB Jihad Ward, DB Tony Jefferson, P Jamie Gillan, DB Fabian Moreau, WR Marcus Johnson, OLB Oshane Ximines, S Julian Love and Slayton.
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Tom Canavan, The Associated Press